THE SMITH FAMILY
Inducted in 2017
“Give back to the Ellensburg community,” Jimmie Smith urged his son Joel nearly fifty years ago. “Find something you are passionate about, volunteer to promote it, and give it all of your very best efforts.”
Throughout his life, Jimmie Smith volunteered to help the Ellensburg Rodeo, an interest he inherited from his father Laurel Burchard Smith, and passed down to his own children and grandchildren. For nearly 100 years, the Smith family has served the Ellensburg Rodeo in an impressive number of posts.
During the 1920s and ‘30s, during the early years of Ellensburg Rodeo, Laurel Burchard Smith served as an usher and ticket taker, attired in the western-style silk shirts and neckties he always wore at rodeo time. Laurel also played clarinet in the Ellensburg “Cowboy Band,” a group of marching musicians who entertained rodeo fans back in the days before public address systems and the use of records.
Laurel Burchard Smith thus began a volunteer tradition carried on by his son James Robert “Jimmie” Smith. A graduate of EHS, Central, and the University of Idaho in music education, Jimmie led a college jazz combo called the Blues Chasers and taught music in the Ellensburg public schools (1939-43). Earlier, at age 17, he had become conductor of the Cowboy Band, leading the popular local musicians in the parade and at each rodeo performance from 1934-43.
Jimmie Smith’s 1939 marriage to Jean Johnson brought a strong cowboy component to the Smith family tree. Jean’s mother was descended from the Burroughs, late nineteenth century cattle ranchers who settled and worked the northeast corner of the Kittitas Valley. After service as an Army Captain in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Jimmie Smith returned home to found “NorKem” (renamed “SmithKem”) and entered the growing fertilizer and pesticide application business. He continued his involvement in the Ellensburg Rodeo, volunteering as an official event timer. He treated the stock barns’ hornet and fly infestations, cleaned the grandstands, and worked the rodeo track and arena using SmithKem trucks, tractors, sprayers, and pressure hose equipment. Jimmie also served as an Ellensburg Rodeo Board member (1957).
Jimmie and Jean’s son Joel and his wife Marie continued the Smith family’s involvement in the rodeo; so too did Jimmie and Jean’s daughter Laurel Jean (Laurie). Jimmie’s advice to Joel to find a cause he had a passion to serve came to fruition as teen-aged Joel accompanied his dad when he timed events alongside the legendary announcer George Prescott (1998 ERHOF Inductee). “It was pretty special for a kid to be that close to Prescott and all those rodeo cowboys and volunteers,” Joel recalls. He was the announcer booth “go-fer,” running for pop and helping with grounds-keeping duties.
After military service in Vietnam, Joel returned home to join the family business and was elected to the Rodeo Board of Directors in 1981, serving until 2007. Joel coordinated contestant services and relations, grounds maintenance, the parade, sound systems, and more. Like his grandfather and dad, Joel was a musician. He took his experience fronting an early 1960s EHS rock and roll band (“The Invaders”) and working as a concert technician in Europe and Africa into the Ellensburg Rodeo Arena when he produced a series of country music concerts between 1987 and 2001. The concert series brought world-famous artists–Tanya Tucker, Tim McGraw, Glen Campbell, Oak Ridge Boys, Rodney Crowell, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, and many others–to the Ellensburg Rodeo Arena. In 2002, Joel produced the first Saturday night “Xtreme Bulls” event, and Ellensburg joined the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) bullriding tour in 2003. Saturday night bullriding has been a sellout ever since, becoming a popular Ellensburg Rodeo spectacle and a major source of revenue.
Scott Repp, a 2007 ERHOF inductee, served on the Rodeo Board of Directors with Joel for 20 years and is a close friend. He recalls Joel was an extremely “hard-working, detailed, organized, and prepared” Director who “showed a real passion” for the Ellensburg Rodeo. “His commitment was year-round, and he never missed a work party.” Repp stresses Smith’s pioneering role in making “Xtreme bullriding” a major component of the Ellensburg Rodeo and a national brand of the PRCA. “Joel brought PRCA bullriding to a new level.”
Joel received the Driver Family Award for Ellensburg Rodeo service in 2002, and in 2007 the PRCA honored him with their most prestigious award for local rodeo board volunteers, naming him “Committeeman of the Year.” One of the founders of the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame Association, Joel now serves as ERHOF President.
Marie Rogers Smith has worked alongside Joel since he joined the rodeo board, and has not missed a rodeo in 30 years. She was his partner in managing the concert series, and her other jobs have included pressure washing the grandstands, cooking for and co-hosting the post-rodeo “Appreciation Dinners,” handling the rodeo President’ s wife’s many duties, building and maintaining the Western Village barn-wood flower boxes, and chairing the Maynard Linder Award committee. Marie is also a member of the ERHOF board and spearheads the annual arts fundraiser; she coordinates dozens of local artists in creating rodeo-themed boot, hat, skull, guitar, and, this year, “Hides of Fame” art objects earning over $150,000.00 for the ERHOF permanent museum fund.
Laurie Smith Erickson has many memories growing up in a home buzzing with rodeo activities all summer long. “We were in the middle of the rodeo action, and before there was a Friday night rodeo performance, my mom and dad always hosted a big Friday rodeo get-together,” she remembers (noting she and husband Andy Erickson inherited the party). As a youngster, Laurie rode in the parade and Grand Entry with neighbor and rodeo board member Tex Taliaferro. She and Andy are longtime Gold Buckle Club members and Laurie has been active in the PRCA’s and Ellensburg Rodeo’s campaign to highlight awareness of and support for cancer research. Soon after Sonja Mitchell, Kathy Harris, Rachel Case, and other local women organized the Ellensburg Rodeo’s “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” event, Laurie joined the committee and served from 2007-12. A highlight was the first “balloon launch” of scores of pink balloons during a Sunday performance of the Ellensburg Rodeo.
Joel and Marie’s and Laurie and Andy’s children Austin (Aubrey), Damian (Jamie), Ryan, Brady (Leah), Kari and grandchildren Kaelynn, Halle, Judah, Micha, Ashley, Ellie, Tate, Crue, and Mallory constitute the seventh and eighth generations of this Kittitas Valley Pioneer Rodeo Family.
“When you’re a volunteer,” Joel reflects, “your kids become volunteers too.” Austin and Damian Smith started their rodeo chores as youngsters helping Joel and Marie painting, picking up trash, and pressure washing the grandstands every rodeo weekend. Austin was a founding consultant to the ERHOF art fund auction, while Damian was official photographer; both created and won awards for art objects they created for the annual fundraiser, from “Boots of Fame” to the present.
As they approach the 100-year anniversary of their involvement in the Ellensburg Rodeo, Smith family members continue their volunteerism and hard work. Jimmie Smith’s advice to his children to “give back to the community” has proven as fruitful as he envisioned.